Some of us don’t do that passionate thing. Maybe it’s the Czech heritage – Jaroslav Hašek through Vaclav Havel through Milan Kundera – a pose of bemused irony hiding careful thinking and an iron will to change things gets more done than shouting and the rending of garments. In fact, shouting seems stupid. That’s for losers. Vaclav Havel was buddies with Frank Zappa after all.
Or maybe it’s a function of age and the cultural icons you grew up with. As a kid it was John Wayne and Shane – men of few words, who didn’t share their feelings, even with themselves. They just got things done – and those were the right things. There was no point in talking about it. There was no scene in any of those old cowboy movies where one cowpoke said to the other, Tex, let’s share our feelings.
And after that it was the cool detectives like Peter Gunn and then suave James Bond. Bond let the villains rant and giggle manically and sneer, and then raised an eyebrow and saved the world, without damaging the Seville Row suit (Peter Gunn wore Brooks Brothers). You remember the line from the Bond movie – Have you broken something? – Only my tailor’s heart. Ironic quips that only tangentially refer to firm beliefs or possible deep emotion were the order of the day. The message was clear. My beliefs and feelings aren’t really any of your damned business. There was a cultural bias in that direction.
Or maybe a distrust of too much passion comes from too much reading, a lot of the acerbic Swift and coming across that other eighteenth century British fellow William Shenstone saying this – “Zealous men are ever displaying to you the strength of their belief, while judicious men are showing you the grounds of it.” Of course he also said this – “The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters.” He was a bit of a wag. But there was something in the air in the eighteenth century. Saying something is so because you feel strongly it is so – and when challenged to explain why it is so, saying that you really, really, really and deeply feel it is so, as if that settles the matter – is nuts. Saying “but I really deeply believe this” is not an argument.
Yes, some of us miss the Age of Enlightenment. Authority and legitimacy used to come from reason. Our Founding Fathers were really into that – there’s a reason they kind of left God and the passions of religion out of our Constitution. They were men of that age, sometimes called the Age of Reason. The Age of Reason was the book by Thomas Paine. Stable and legitimate and fair government is something we can reason out – and if everyone brings their religions passions to the table we can’t. So the government will make no law regarding the establishment of religion, and there will be no religious test for any office. Believe what you will, and believe it as deeply and fervently as you’d like. It’s a free country – knock yourself out. But don’t bring it to the city council meeting on contracts for trash collection services.
But times change, and this is the age of zealous men. We admire passion. We want our leaders fired up, not scholarly and judicious. That didn’t work out that well with Bush – he was certainly fired up, but not even minimally judicious. Eight years of Bush saying things were so because he felt deeply that they were so was excruciating. And Obama was the counterbalance. But now the left is ragging on him for his lack of passion – he should be more fired up. Ironic and easy wit and grace won’t do. See Michael Moore:
You’re such a good guy, Mr. President. You came to Washington with your hand extended to the Republicans and they just chopped it off. You wanted to be respectful and they decided that they were going to say “no” to everything you suggested. Yet, you kept on saying you still believed in bipartisanship.
Moore wants Rahm Emanuel’s job. He wants to hand Mitch McConnell his head – screw sweet reason and being cool and smart. That’s not how the world works. Obviously Moore wasn’t that into the Bond films. Moore is a zealous man. Everyone is these days. Those guys win. Watch Fox News.
And now another 9/11 has come and gone – which was either a day for quiet reflection and grief, or a day to get fired up and shout Never Again! Maybe you got the chain letter to fly your flag – “Take a moment to think back to how you felt on 9/11 and let those sentiments guide you.” Let your feelings guide you. Don’t think. This is not the time for thinking. It hasn’t been the time for thinking for nine years now. This is about passion.
And then there was the other way of looking at this:
President Obama stressed that America was not at war with Islam as he decried the “sorry band of men” that attacked the nation nine years ago in memorial ceremonies at the Pentagon on Saturday.
“The perpetrators of this evil act didn’t simply attack America; they attacked the very idea of America itself – all that we stand for and represent in the world,” Obama said. “And so the highest honor we can pay those we lost, indeed our greatest weapon in this ongoing war, is to do what our adversaries fear the most – to stay true to who we are, as Americans; to renew our sense of common purpose; to say that we define the character of our country, and we will not let the acts of some small band of murderers who slaughter the innocent and cower in caves distort who we are.”
Like Bush he calls for a day of service, and like Bush Obama says calm down – don’t make this a war on Islam, because it isn’t. Careful thinking and an iron will to change things back to this being a place where we are the good guys who don’t go all crazy is what’s called for. He sounds suspiciously Czech. Maybe the Birthers were onto something – but he wasn’t born in Kenya. It must have been Prague.
Of course the right was outraged – and passionately outraged of course. See Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit – What the Hell? … Barack Obama Marks 9-11 As National Day of Community Service and Soup Kitchens. Holt is as unhappy as Michael Moore.
At least there was Florida Pastor Terry Jones, on his now aborted Koran-burning plans – “Not today, not ever. We’re not going to go back and do it. It is totally canceled.” Of course he may change his mind again.
Not that it mattered, as there was this:
A small group of conservative Christians tore some pages from a Koran in a protest outside the White House Saturday to denounce what they called the “charade of Islam” on the anniversary of 9/11.
“Part of why we’re doing that, please hear me: the charade that Islam is a peaceful religion must end,” said Randall Terry, a leading anti-abortion campaigner, and one of six people who took part in the protest.
Another activist, Andrew Beacham, read out a few Koran passages calling for hatred towards Christians and Jews, and then ripped those pages from an English paperback edition of the Islamic holy book.
He carefully put the torn pieces into a plastic bag, in order not to litter, and said: “The only reason I will not burn it at the White House is because to burn anything on the Capitol grounds is a felony.”
That’s nice, but Randall Terry – who represented the Schindler family in the Terri Schiavo case – isn’t that nice. He’s pretty good at terrorizing young women at abortion clinics. But each time a doctor who performs legal abortions is murdered he is quick to say that wasn’t his fault. He never told anyone, explicitly, to do that. He’s a passionate man. But what others do because of what they heard him say is what they do, not what he did. Cool.
And see Steven Benen here on what was happening across town – the Faith and Freedom Conference and Strategy Briefing. Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff’s bagman, was getting people together to help mobilize faith voters. Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich were there, sharing the stage with Bryan Fischer – the fellow who has declared that all Muslims should be banned from serving in the military and all Muslim noncitizens must be deported – and of course all Muslim citizens must be stripped of their citizenship and expelled from the country – and the construction of mosques in the United States must be completely banned. And oh yeah, all the soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan have died in vain because we did not convert those countries to Christianity.
So it is worth asking why, if leaders like Gingrich, McDonnell, and Huckabee wouldn’t be caught anywhere near the likes of an anti-Muslim bigot like Terry Jones, they are so willing to share the stage with one like Bryan Fischer?
Maybe it is because these days we admire passion – zeal, not judiciousness. Terry Jones of course was a special case. Jones was clearly nuts, and a liar, and an embarrassment – and the facial hair was too retro. There’s a fine line between zeal and madness, but there is a line.
But the real action was not in DC. It was further north in Manhattan:
Thousands of people took to the streets Saturday here in dueling protests over building a mosque close to Ground Zero, triggering noisy sidewalk arguments closely watched by a tight police guard.
About 1,500 people first marched in favor of a Muslim organization’s right to build a Muslim community center two blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood until it was destroyed in the 9/11 terror strikes.
But later about 2,000 people gathered close by for a separate rally against the mosque, which was taking place just hours after the solemn ceremonies to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
They were addressed by Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders who flew from The Netherlands to urge the crowd: “This is where we have drawn the line.”
“We must never give a free hand to those who want to subjugate us,” Wilders added. “Draw this line so that New York… will never become New Mecca.”
A community center with basketball courts, a swimming pool and cooking class – with dedicated prayer rooms for Muslims, Jews and Christians – does not a Mecca make, but Wilders was passionate, as was the crowd. Of course this item also mentions there were uniformed marines, peace activists, Buddhists and a troop of Hell’s Angels there too. A good time was had by all.
And it was a duel:
Supporters of the project – mostly non-Muslim activists – said opposition was based on anti-Muslim bigotry.
“Stop the racist war against Muslim people,” one placard read.
“People are afraid because there is a campaign against Muslims in our country,” said peace activist Jane Toby, 70.
Is that true? Is the pope Catholic?
“It’s a victory mosque they want to build,” New Yorker John told AFP, refusing to give his full name. “If they want to build bridges then they should listen to the people and move.
“On 9/11 Muslims were dancing in the streets. The peaceful ones need to speak up if they’re American.”
Suvi, wearing a T-shirt daubed with the words “American Patriot,” agreed, saying: “If we don’t do something now. Our country is gone. There’s too much craziness going on and people are starting to take notice.”
And there was this:
Another set of pastors Saturday preached outside the mosque site denouncing Islam and claiming the center would amount to conquest of America. “Islam takes life and enslaves it,” one preacher screamed, sweat pouring down his face.
One man was walking through the crowds offering pages of the Koran to use as toilet paper.
But there also was this:
A supporter of the mosque project, bicycle courier Craig Thorpe, said Islam should not be demonized. “I see Catholic churches around here, Protestant churches, a synagogue, but why shouldn’t Muslims be allowed to build too? It’s crazy.”
At least no one showed up and said Garrison Keillor was really irritating and Prairie Home Companion was an evil radio show and all the Lutherans he talks about should go back to where they came from – Norway perhaps.
A group called Stop Islamization of America set up the protest – passionate folks. Reza Aslan – the author of Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized World – offers some background:
Stop Islamization of America is an offshoot of a European neo-Nazi organization called Stop Islamization of Europe, whose motto is “Racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the height of common sense.” The American wing of the organization, which is also behind some of the mosque protests taking place all across the country, is headed by two fringe figures, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.
Geller is the real face of the organization – the queen nut of the wingnuts, if you will. Before gaining international fame as the person who almost single-handedly turned the Park51 Project into the mosque at ground zero, Geller was a journalist for the New York Daily News and former associate publisher of The New York Observer. After 9/11, she says she dedicated her life to stopping the spread of Islam in America. Her blog, Atlas Shrugs, is a mishmash of her inane views on a wide range of social and political issues. However, a quick read of the blog reveals that one of her favorite topics of discussion is the “Muslim in the White House.”
He notes that Media Matters for America has counted 267 posts on her blog with that exact phrase – she’s one of the twenty percent of Americans who believe that Obama is a secret Muslim out to destroy America from inside the White House. Aslan has links and all the details. And he notes Geller also has issues with insufficiently Zionistic Jews – Geller is proud of her picture of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in a Nazi uniform on her blog. Photoshop is cool.
As for Newt Gingrich suddenly backing out of his commitment to this Manhattan event, citing a scheduling conflict, Aslan says that makes sense:
It may be that the person Gingrich wanted most to avoid is the guest of honor at Saturday’s event – the flamboyantly fascist, anti-Muslim Dutch politician and professional provocateur Geert Wilders.
Wilders has made a name for himself throughout Europe both for his extreme anti-immigration policies (ironically, Wilders’ mother was born in modern day Indonesia, making him a second-generation immigrant) and his outrageous statements against Muslims. While some brand Wilders as a lunatic for his more ridiculous policies, like taxing Muslim women for the headscarf or banning the Quran from the Netherlands, his use of Islam as a scapegoat for Dutch issues – particularly the flailing economy and rising crime rate – has actually been quite successful. His political platform is a simple one: “More security, less crime, less immigration, less Islam.”
Aslan has much more – but Geller at the protest called Wilders this age’s new Winston Churchill. But it gets complicated:
Geller and Spencer together also run the group Freedom Defense Initiative, which, in its own words, is focused on stopping “specific Islamic supremacist initiatives in American cities” and finding “infiltrators of our federal agencies.” As one can imagine, this is a huge project: weeding out Muslim infiltrators in the U.S. government. After all, as FDI board member Joseph Kay has said, “Every person in Islam, from man to woman to child, may be our executioner. In short, that there are no innocents in Islam … all of Islam is at war with us, and that all of Islam is/are combatant(s).”
And it comes down to this:
For Geller, Spencer, Wilders, and a growing number of Americans, there is absolutely no difference between what they term “Islamist supremacists” and any other Muslim. That is the definition of bigotry: painting 1.5 billion people across the planet with the exact same brush.
Well, yes – that is what’s going on. See this item on a new movie that premiered in DC on 9/11 – Newt Gingrich and Citizens United warn Americans of the impending threat of radical Islam. As the voice-over narrator says in the trailer – “This is the end of times. This is the final struggle.” The trailer is at the link – the movie’s website is America at Risk – the world is a dangerous place filled with radicalized Muslims who want to and really can destroy America. “The war on terror, and the ideology behind it, have only just begun” – that’s what Gingrich’s wife, Callista Gingrich, says as she and Gingrich stand in front of a green-screened New York skyline.
And here is Josh Marshall’s question – “Do you want to see a primer on the Clash of Civilizations and the coming Islam-fueled Armageddon hosted by a disgraced and philandering former politician and his third and current trophy wife?”
Maybe you do, if you want to get fired up. And Jillian Rayfield has this wrap-up of the anti-Park51 protest near Ground Zero, including this:
Speakers assured the crowd that it’s not that they’re intolerant, because this isn’t about tolerance, exactly – but so what if it is, because Islam is intolerant? Or something.
And this detail:
One man who opposes Park 51, Lance Corey of Westchester, New York, carried a sign that said “Muhammad was the first radical Muslim. Osama bin Laden is following directions.” He described himself as a “militant progressive liberal’ who voted for Obama, and who “cannot tolerate intolerance.” But, he said, “I don’t think this is discrimination against Muslims. It’s discrimination against Islam.”
Don’t even try to unpack the logic there. If the Muslims would only abandon Islam, he’d have no problem with Muslims. Is that it?
And there’s this:
Former Ambassador John Bolton delivered a pre-taped video message. Speaking from a library, in front of a book called “Derivatives” and some others that looked like SAT books, Bolton said that Park51 is a “strange enterprise” that basically is telling the American people, “we’re going to increase religious tolerance and understanding whether you like it or not.”
What? The zeal is obvious. The sense is not, and there’s this:
The other video was from Big Government’s Andrew Breitbart, who Geller introduced as a man “slaying the forces behind the biased mainstream media.” Breitbart assured the crowd:
“You’re not controversial. Katie Couric is controversial. Charlie Gibson is controversial. Brian Williams is controversial. The New York Times is controversial. Those people that represent the minority are acting as if you’re somehow doing something that is morally incorrect. Well, I think the term that we’re talking about is politically incorrect.”
Conservative radio host Mike Gallagher said he’s proud of his connection to Fox News, but doesn’t think this debate “is about religious liberty.” The main point, he said, is that an “Islamic mosque at this site is wildly inappropriate.”
And it goes on. There was a lot of zeal in the air. And this:
As the crowds dissipated, Geller warned them against talking to members of the media: “Do not give them any ammunition. You know who you are. You know that you’re righteous. Do not give them an opportunity to deride this fine and honorable effort. Remember what I’m saying. They’re looking to catch you. Don’t give it to them.”
“Listen to Mommy,” she said.
And see the slide show with all the signs – No Obama’s Mosque! No Victory Mosque! No Muslim Integration! Transform Islam, Not America!
And don’t miss the chubby woman with the t-shirt that reads Waterboarding Instructor.
Some of us don’t do that passionate thing – we’re stuck in the eighteenth century or something. But these folks were saying all this was an insult to the victims of 9/11 – and that’s all of us.
Alissa Torres, wife of a 9/11 victim, says not so fast:
What did I think about the decision to construct a “mosque” this close to ground zero? I thought it was a no-brainer. Of course it should be built there. I sometimes wonder if those people fighting so passionately against Park51 can fathom the diversity of those who died at ground zero. Do we think no Muslims died in the towers? My husband, Eddie Torres, killed on his second day of work at Cantor Fitzgerald while I was pregnant with our first child, was a dark-skinned Latino, often mistaken for Pakistani, who came here illegally from Colombia. How did “9/11 victim” become sloppy shorthand for “white Christian”? …
But here is what’s been lost in this Park51 controversy: We are not experts, we are victims. We deserve to speak up, we need to speak up to acknowledge the pain and suffering, but we were never meant to be leaders in a national debate. Because the only thing we really know intimately is grief. The only thing we really know is what it feels like to lose a loved one in 9/11.
She doesn’t seem to think that self-righteous public displays of rage are impressive, or even marginally appropriate, nor is the process of the mad scramble to assemble piety points you can trade in later for power and influence and office. Someone should tell her she’s not alone. There are other ways to make things right, eventually. But that’s not how things are seen these days. And so the anniversary of 9/11 came, and went.